County decides not to buy river land

  • The Nassau County Board of County Commissioners voted to cancel a sales contract for a 35-acre tract of land adjacent to the St. Marys River in Hilliard that it had targeted for a new park. NASSAU COUNTY
    The Nassau County Board of County Commissioners voted to cancel a sales contract for a 35-acre tract of land adjacent to the St. Marys River in Hilliard that it had targeted for a new park. NASSAU COUNTY

The Nassau County Board of County Commissioners dealt with property issues at their meeting Monday night.

The meeting started off on a contentious note as resident Todd Washechek, who owns property on Clements Road, complained bitterly about the chronic flooding issues he says he and his neighbors experience due to the Woodbridge subdivision next door. Washechek told the board he is “being treated as a second-rate citizen.”

Saying that more fill dirt keeps being brought in, ponds are being dug, and “who’s ever got the most dirt at the end of this battle wins,” he concluded, “and I get all the water.” Washechek was also upset about a fence he says is missing and neighbors he said are accidently putting in fencing and gardens on his property.

County Manager and Attorney Mike Mullin said that the county has performed an exhaustive engineering study of the problem, which Washechek said he has, and that the county staff will meet with him on the issue. Washechek added that Chairman Danny Leeper has known about the issue since at least August 2017, reading a news article about a previous complaint regarding the situation, which Leeper admitted Monday has gone on too long.

Turning to the potential purchase of about 35 acres near Kings Ferry for a county park, Mullin said David Barth, who had just presented his work so far on a new parks and recreation master plan, had recently visited the property.

Barth rose to say he was underwhelmed by the site: “The area by the river is a wetland. ... How much fill is it going to take?” He added that he was not sure how a high-quality parking area could be created. Barth suggested the county investigate vacant land around the Kings Ferry boat ramp to get it to function as a larger site.

Mullin added that there is a platted subdivision next to the property under consideration, and one of the lots encroaches on the property. He said the next step would be to hire an engineering consultant for another $35,000 to $45,000 in estimated due diligence costs. Mullin also said the owner wanted 2.5% of the $875,000 price to extend the due diligence period another 45 days.

According to a previous News-Leader report, the tract of land was appraised in November 2019 at $950,000, but Allison Properties, owner of the land, accepted an offer of $875,000 from the county in March. The purchase would have been funded by county recreational impact fees. 

After a brief discussion, the commissioners voted unanimously to terminate the contract on the property. Mullin said the county will look at the other properties next to the Kings Ferry boat ramp.

Sean Lahav of the Northeast Florida Regional Council presented findings from an economic impact study of COVID-19 in Northeast Florida. Saying they only modeled one scenario, Lahav projects less than 2,000 jobs will be lost in Nassau County. Lahav added the findings are available on the NEFRC’s website.

Moving on to the submission of a joint grant application for Amelia Island in order to get an incidental take permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Fernandina Beach Vice Mayor Len Kreger rose to support it. The permit is supposed to be in place before any driving to park is allowed on city or county beaches. Incidental take means accidently killing any protected or endangered species that might be on the beach. The board voted unanimously in favor of funding $17,000 of the grant application. The city of Fernandina Beach and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are also helping to fund the grant application.

Gil Langley, managing director of the Amelia Island Tourist Development Council, told the board that according to his quarterly report, taxable sales were down 41.46% in March and 90.43% in April. Third- and fourth-quarter projections are for 40% of the original budgeted revenue for the TDC, an almost $2 million shortfall. Deficits will be covered with reserves at the end of the year according to the Office of Management & Budget, per Langley.

“It could be worse,” noted Langley.

Amy Boek, the chief marketing officer for the Amelia Island Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, followed Langley. Boek said the island usually sees more revenue if people traveled farther to get to it, but the Bureau’s focus is on vehicle travel right now. Two new catchphrases for the campaign are “making new memories” and “be in paradise by tonight.”

On the consent agenda, the BOCC unanimously approved: minutes from previous meetings; finance package 2020-14 with associated resolutions; a bid of $104,870 from DB Civil Construction LLC for the Citrona Drive Storm Drain Replacement Project; canceling and rescheduling their July 27 meeting; a work order for CDM Smith Inc. for construction engineering service related to a pavement management plan; an amendment to the Ocean Rescue Services contract with the city of Fernandina Beach; appointing Leeper and Commissioner Tom Ford to the Small County Coalition Board of Directors, along with Assistant County Manager Taco Pope as the staff liaison; and setting a date for a discussion of establishing the county’s own wrecker/towing rates. The county has been using the Florida Highway Patrol’s rates.